Most leaders appreciate the importance of understanding their own values. What leaders often miss is the importance of identifying and living shared values with their teams.
Organizational shared values are one of the most underused and misused leadership tools in the leadership toolbox. But when done right, knowing and living shared team values is organizational gold.
Values : guiding principles; tenets we strive to demonstrate in our words and actions
I think we’ve all seen poor and destructive (yes, destructive!) attempts at establishing shared organizational values. At best, these bad examples show themselves as a list of values gathering dust on a wall or in a drawer. No one knows them, no one cares about them, and certainly no one tries to live them.
At worst, people may know about the shared organizational values, but the leaders do such a poor job of demonstrating them, even at times acting in direct opposition to them. This is when an organization’s “supposed” values become destructive. They foment deep cynicism in the ranks and erode trust in leadership.
What good can come from working with your staff to establish your organization’s shared values?
Why is it so important to have very clear shared values that you and your team commit to “talk and walk” every day?
1. They are culture-creating.
You are going to end up with a team culture, one way or the other.
You can either leave your team culture to chance, or you can purposefully work to design it. When team members sit together to identify their shared values, they are taking a critical first step in creating the culture of their organization.
Beliefs and core values drive behavior. What team members do and how they act is an outward manifestation of the team culture. So, it is clear that shared values are deeply linked to culture.
When an organization decides on its deeply held core values and members agree to how they will demonstrate those values, essentially they are creating a shared code of conduct. That code of conduct demonstrates the best of the team and the best of the individuals on that team. It is authentic, it is real, and it is relevant. It drives behaviors that are important to the success of the organization, the team members, and the business.
By deeply knowing themselves and agreeing to “walk the talk” of their share values, the entire organization is elevated to the best it can be, and a critical first step is taken in creating a consistent and lasting culture.
Design a great culture that starts with your shared values.
2. They are team-building.
The process of choosing shared organizational values is a great team building exercise. In fact, I often tell my clients that the process is just as important as the resulting values themselves.
In a well-facilitated values discussion, each member gets to share what is important to him/her and to learn what is important to others. The insights that team members gain about their colleagues’ core values are sometimes downright surprising and inspiring!
I recall a meeting where one team member insisted that “family” should be included in the team’s shared values. After a lot of push-back from the group, she finally teared up a little and exclaimed to the group, “I think of YOU as a part of my family!” It was an unexpectedly touching moment.
Shared values also help team members work together better. By establishing shared values, members agree to what behaviors they can expect from each other, they know what behaviors others expect of them, and they can hold each other accountable.
Build a cohesive team that is driven by their shared values.
3. They are practical.
Here’s a woefully under-used aspect of your group’s shared values: They serve as a very practical tool in your day-to-day management!
One common example of discussions I have:
Client: “Ugh…I need to have a serious talk with an employee who is delivering results, but he is alienating everyone along the way. I know he’ll get super defensive and point out how he is achieving all of his quarterly goals. I can’t argue that point. I’m not sure how to approach him with this.”
Me: “I know you have shared group values (one of which is “team”). Have you talked to him about that?”
Client: (big sigh of relief)
Shared values can be a useful component of performance management, developing interview questions, making hiring, firing, and promotion decisions, recognizing and rewarding employees, providing useful development feedback, and on-boarding new employees.
Your team’s shared values are NOT meant to be just hung on a wall or stuffed in a drawer. Use them.
4. They are confidence-building.
Our values serve as guiding principles that give us a compass in our daily decision-making and actions.
In the absence of understanding our values, decisions can start to feel like uncertain one-offs. With a deep understanding of our values, we have a strong foundation that can give us the confidence to take actions, make decisions, speak up, and take charge.
Being guided by your values gives you the confidence to do the hard things.
For instance, most managers do not enjoy giving difficult feedback. Some do a disservice to their employees by avoiding it altogether. If your core values are honesty and integrity, you know that withholding that feedback is wrong. Backed up by your values, you can have the confidence to face the challenge knowing that you are doing the right thing.
Likewise, shared team values give your employees the same confidence boosters. They don’t have to guess what the right thing to do is, especially in your absence. They know which behaviors are valued and which are not. They have a deeper understanding of your expectations and have a better idea of the actions to take and the decisions to make.
Give your team the compass. Work with them to clarify your team’s shared values.
5. They are brand-building.
A brand is the message you send (by talk or by walk) about who you are, the value you provide, and what people can expect from you. Like you, your organization also has a brand, whether you know it or not.
For a brand to be effective, it needs to be authentic and honest. Our values are the core of who we are. The same goes for the shared values of our team. Our shared team values become the foundation of our organization’s brand.
How other people experience your team also defines your team brand. Clarifying your shared values with your team is really important since those values are how you intend to navigate with others, in other words, how you intend others to experience your team.
Build your team brand intentionally. Start with the authenticity of shared team values.
Let me know!
What successes have you had with shared team values? What is the biggest challenge you have seen (maybe with other leaders) in trying to implement the use of shared team values?